When I was growing up in New Brunswick (seemingly a million years ago) we were taught virtually nothing in school about the aboriginal history of our country.  In grade 7 or 8, during Canadian History, I recall a lesson about Louis Riel.  Period.  Full stop.  That is all the real history we ever learned.

I lived in a land rich in aboriginal culture and history – the land of the Mi’kmaq and the Maliseet yet the only time I ever heard the name Mi’kmaq was in reference to the Micmac Mall in Saint John.  The only other thing I remember learning was that many of the names of towns and villages in my province were of the Mi’kmaq language.  Everything else was romanticized and sanitized for our protection – how to make a birch bark canoe and a teepee, how to make pemmican… I seriously believed that all aboriginal people wore large, feathered headdresses, wore moccasins, at pemmican, lived in teepees, hunted from birch bark canoes with a bow, and danced to make it rain.  Because that’s the stereotype version we were taught.

I knew nothing of residential schools, the over-representation of aboriginal peoples in jails and prisons, their histories, their traditions, the tragedy of foster care and adopting out, the art, writing or traditional knowledge.  My educators failed me.  Even worse, they failed the original peoples of Canada… again.

During this diversity project, we are going to be bringing you the stories of aboriginal people you should know more about.

We’ll start today with Henry Louis Norwest, a sniper who served Canada in WWI.

Lance Corporal Norwest was born in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta.  He was Metis, of Cree-French descent.

Prior to joining the Canadian army, during World War I, Mr. Norwest was a ranch hand, a rodeo performer and also worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

During three years of service with the 50th Canadian Infantry Battalion, L/Cpl. Norwest achieved a sniping record of 115 fatal shots.  He earned a Military Medal for his service in the war and roughly a year after he was awarded that medal, he was awarded a bar to go with it.  This makes him one of only 830 members of the CEF (the Canadian Expeditionary Force) to achieve this honour.

He was known to be friendly and pleasant to his fellow soldiers but completely passionate, dedicated and focused in his work.  He believed that he had a special skill as a sniper and therefore, he had a duty to use that skill.  It was said that much of L/Cpl. Norwest’s time was spent in No Man’s Land – the space between opposing forces and that he sometimes went behind enemy lines to accomplish his missions.

He was at Vimy Ridge.  He and his battalion were tasked with taking a peak on the ridge known as The Pimple, which they captured on April 12, 1917.  This is where L/Cpl. Norwest earned his Military Medal, for bravery, skill and initiative.  It is said that his sniping during that mission saved the lives of countless men.

On August 18th, 1918, shortly after success in the Battle of Amien, he and two others were looking for a nest of enemy snipers.  An enemy bullet found the young sniper and he was killed instantly.  He is interned at Warvillers Graveyard Extension, in Somme, France.

Other information about Henry Louis Norwest:

Veterans Affairs Canada refers to him both as a Lance Corporal (on their Remembering Those Who Served and their Memorial page) and a Private (on their Memorial page).

He actually joined the army twice.  The first time, in January, 1915, under the name Henry Louie.  Under that name, he spent three months in the military and was discharged for misbehaviour.  He rejoined under the name Henry Louis Norwest in November, 1915.

One of L/Cpl. Norwest’s sniper rifles is on exhibit at the King’s Own Calgary Regiment Museum at the Military Museums

L/Cpl Norwest’s wife died of tuberculosis not longer after his death.  Their three children were sent to an orphanage and Ermineskin Residential School, not having seen their father since he was sent to war.

The cenotaph in Fort Saskatchewan did not bear Norwest’s name until 2010, almost 90 years after his death.

His nickname among fellow soldiers was “Ducky”, apparently after a woman in France took a liking to him and he “ducked out” to avoid the situation.

When aboriginal people joined the army during World War I, they became Canadian citizens and had the right to vote in the 1917 election. They lost those citizenship rights when they were discharged.

To learn more about Lance Corporal Henry Louis Norwest, visit these sources (many of which were used in creating the profile above):

Veterans Affairs Remembrance Page                   World Wars Aboriginal Veterans Portal

Veterans Affairs Memorial Page                             Roll Call of Honour – Online Memory Box

University of Calgary Library

Edmonton Journal article on Canada.com